Abstracts for the 2015 Symposium on Poetry and Medicine

Phineas Fletcher and the Purple Island
John Riddington Young, Bideford

The Reverend Phineas Fletcher was a 17th century English poet (of the metaphysical school), and The Purple Island (1633) was his most famous work, an epic poem in which he compared the human body to the Earth. He finds the most obscure correspondences and signatures in his poem in which he racks his own imagination (and that of his reader) to find analogies in the natural world for almost every part of the body. The majority of its 4,879 lines are a description of his Isle of Man, in which the human body is allegorized. Purple rivers are veins and arteries, which flow through the chief cities of Liver, Heart and Braine. Fanciful and detailed anatomical descriptions are given for most parts of the body.

The Anatomy of the Dance: Poetry as Propaedeutic Framing Device in Robert Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy
Yvonne Kiddle, University of Western Australia, Perth WA.

In 1621, the Oxford scholar, polymath and divine Robert Burton published a very large and compendious work entitled The Anatomy of Melancholy. The Anatomy, as it came to be known, proved to be an enormous success. It was published, effectively, as a palliative text and incorporated a comprehensive account of what was known at that time about the insidious disease of melancholy [melancholia]. The Anatomy went into five editions within the course of Burton’s own life-time. Since that time, it has enjoyed a variable success, its fate being determined by the progress of the science, or more properly, of the sciences, which carried it. Nowadays, Burton’s Anatomy provides the interested reader with a plethora of proffered expositions, from the tenets of Galenic medicine to the pitfalls of romantic love, along with able demonstrations of the art of epideictic rhetoric. Yet something that is not much treated in relation to this great work is the nature of the verse or poetry which serves to frame it. Burton himself was a sometime poet - in fact, he published a total of twenty-one poems altogether, most of which were in the vein of commemorative verse and all of which were composed in Latin; fourteen of these poems were directly concerned with members of the royal family. With regard to the Anatomy, however, we ask: how was poetry utilised as both an invitation to the reader and an introduction to the text that followed? How did it effectively ‘market’ the substance of the work? What secrets did the poetic frame profess to give away, not only about the therapeutic value of this fascinating text, but also about its author? Finally, how did this “brother poet” of “lowly, sembling breed” see himself in relation to the ‘melancholic’ world around him? The answers to these questions lie in the few short pages of verse which frame the main text of the Anatomy. Not surprisingly, in examining Burton’s verse, we are able to obtain not only a clearer picture of the rather enigmatic divine who penned it, but also of the endemic nature of the beast which evidently drove him.

Echo Poems
Joseph Gascho, Hummelstown, Pennsylvania

As a cardiologist, I interpret echocardiograms—sonograms of the heart. Looking at these powerful images and considering the other information I am given about each patient, my mind races: what is this patient thinking while the study is being performed? Is he/she appropriately concerned or inappropriately anxious about what I will find? What would I be thinking if these images were of my own heart? These are questions which in my experience, only poetry and its attendant imaginative reflection can hope to answer. Yet the more poetry I write, the more the images themselves—colors, contours, the dynamic movement of heart muscle and blood—intrigue me. I find myself equally compelled by word and image, and the back-and-forth echoes that resound between them create a particular harmony, a distinct reflective space in which writer, reader, patient and doctor can reside.
My presentation at the 2015 International Poetry and Medicine Symposium will highlight a series of echo poems, with echocardiograms and poems presented side by side. The images are often graphically striking, and all anatomic structures and specific medical diagnoses will be concisely explained for non-cardiologists in the audience along with a discussion of poetic structures and possibilities.
Throughout history, poems have been written about images, and poems have stimulated work in the visual arts. There is controversy about linking these two genres—does seeing the image limit or enhance the response to the poem? Does the poem distract from the viewing of the visual images, or does it give a meaning to the image that would otherwise be lacking? Might not this special case, in which the echocardiographic image is not of a landscape but of a heart, and of a heart with pathology that may greatly impact the patient, add rather than take away from the reading of the poem about that image? These broader questions will also be explored.

Echoes of a Doctor’s Heart (three echocardiographic images, each linked to a poem); Journal of Medical Humanities 30:201-205, 2009.

|Echocardiogram for Pericardial effusion, Permanente Journal, 19,82, 2015.

The Hollow Shrinks: Poetic Response to Cinema’s Flawed Psychiatrists
Henry Verrall, Imperial College, London

Psychiatry is a fascinating area of medical study, and one which is the focus of much criticism and debate. Although psychiatric patients have a long history of being portrayed in a negative light, psychiatrists themselves have often been the targets of stereotyping and stigma. In this talk I will discuss the relationship between cinema and psychiatry, delving into the types and categories of the silver screen’s psychiatrists, and how they are often demonised. I will explain how, in response to these depictions, I devised a system of classification for cinema psychiatrists, focusing on the characteristics that they are most frequently portrayed as lacking. I created a series of four poems entitled ‘The Hollow Shrinks’ as a way of confronting, analysing and challenging some of the stereotypes perpetuated by popular culture through counter-argument, emotional response and a little black humour.

Creative Writing in Student Nurse Reflections and Dementia Awareness.
Romi Jones and Catherine Bailey, University of Northumbria

How do we support pre-registration nursing students caring for patients with dementia, an area of practice which is predicted to grow? Northumbria University is meeting this challenge by providing a Dementia Friends Awareness session during induction for all pre-registration nurses.
This poster summarises a pilot project drawing on the known benefits of creative writing in two relevant settings:- enabling people with dementia to express themselves,   secondly the process of professional reflective practice.  Creative writing workshops used various prompts to explore and express the ‘sense of self’ in both the nurse and the patient with dementia
The student nurses reported the project had given them opportunity to express their creativity, joy, sadness, commitment, professionalism, acute sense of responsibility. Their feedback showed the creative activity felt more ‘real’ and more effective than the reflective exercises in their coursework. 

The Healthy Heart Poetry Project
Wendy French, London; Rebecca Goss, Suffolk; Donald Singer, CVRT, London

Unhealthy lifestyle in children increases risk of premature and preventable heart disease in later life. The Hippocrates Initiative established Healthy Heart Poetry in partnership with the healthy heart charity the Cardiovascular Research Trust. The aim of the Healthy Heart Poetry initiative is to encourage interest among children of all ages in lifestyle that helps to keep the heart healthy. 
Schools participating in our Healthy Heart initiative receive a Healthy Heart Award certificate to recognize their interest in education about how to keep the heart healthy. 
Since 2011, 22 schools  have  received Healthy Heart Awards from the healthy heart charity the 
Cardiovascular Research Trust.
There is an annual Healthy Heart Poetry event at which the children have the opportunity to read their poems from the published Anthology, and Healthy Heart Awards are presented to participating schools. Selected poems are published in an anthology, the first of which, Love your Heart, was published in December 2014. 

A turn for the verse: poetry in medical education
Ms Giskin DayImperial College, London

Medical education is well known for having a very crowded, fact-driven curriculum. Making space for the humanities, including poetry, often is an uphill struggle. Even so, medical schools around the world are realising that reading and writing poetry can develop important skills. I will describe some initiatives in my own teaching for enhancing reflection and resilience – two qualities that are ‘trending’ in medical education. I will put the case for a third ‘R’: resonance. Where reflection requires the distancing mechanism of a mirror, and resilience requires a degree of emotional hardening, resonance unites the rational and emotional in a state of responsive consonance. As a clinical skill, we need to insist on the importance of understanding and developing aurality alongside medicine’s traditional ocularcentricism. It is the attentive, empathic listener who establishes resonance with his or her patients. But resonance is also about setting other strings aquiver. Poetry challenges detachment and unites reason, memory and imagination. This allows us to make a strong case for its inclusion in medical education as an intellectual, creative and practical pursuit.

The Colour of Cancer
Vikky Riley, Specialist Cancer Nurse and Wendy French, Poet in Residenc, Macmillan Cancer Centre, UCHL; Raphael Shirley, Poetry Reader.

Vikky Riley will talk about her role in the Centre which opened in 2013. She’ll discuss the idea behind a Macmillan Centre and talk about the medical side to the work and the different therapies that are open to patients and in some cases their carers. She will talk about the purpose of The Living Room.
Wendy French will talk about her role at the Centre and about the weekly group that is run there. She will talk about the incidental work that goes on, in the lobby, in the lifts, in the teenagers’ ward. Some of the patients’ work will be read and their response to what the group meant for them. The debate will open as to whether this sort of work can enhance a person’s life emotionally or whether it’s just a distraction from the routine work of living with cancer.
Stanley Kunitz said ‘Our job at any given stage of life, is to create a self we can bear to live and die with.’

 © Hippocrates initiative 2012: hippocrates.poetry@gmail.com